Grief

She called it what it is:  

Grief. 

I had never associated that word with what I had been feeling but it all clicked into place. 

Grief can be due to a loss of any kind: a loved one, job, marriage, friendship or a major life change.

What I had been feeling was grief!

I described how desperate I had been to make sense of it all and store it neatly in its box. 

I’m a writer:  I like a good ending.  

And this . . . this just carried on.

I described it as spilled slime.  

Here I was, frantically trying to return the contents to its original container and no matter how hard I tried, it lingered.  

Grief has no blueprint, no timeline.

It’s messy and ugly and nonsensical.

It does not wield to your plans or box. 

It takes its time and you are merely a companion to it.  

Many try to escape its grasp- be it denial, alcohol or busyness.  

Others drown in it. 

And then there’s me- failing to recognize it for what it is. 

Well, hello grief. 

I relinquish my need to control.

I let you take your time. 

I identify you. 

I respect your process. 

And I walk with you 

Until you move along.  

 It is what it is. 

Grief. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

A Life Well Lived

We were born 20 days apart with just 2 houses sitting between our own.  My dad taught him how to swim; his dad taught me how to ride a bike.  

We were always outside, waiting for the tell-tale whistle from his parents at dusk, letting us know it was time to come in for dinner and bed. 

In our early teens, he would climb the tree in front of my house, clamber up the roof and knock.  There was a landing just outside of my window and we would sit there, contemplating life until we were caught.  

His parents had been married just shy of 45 years when his mom succumbed to cancer this past September. 

The funeral was held in late October and just 5 days later, with the fragrance of the funeral flowers still permeating the living room, his dad passed away from sudden cardiac arrest, right into my friend’s arms.  It was two days before their 45th anniversary and we all collectively knew, he had died from a broken heart. 

My mother and I had wept during Mr. White’s eulogy for his wife.  He spoke of their first date- when Mrs. White had invited him to lie underneath a Christmas tree to watch the twinkling lights. 

Mr. White then compared those twinkling lights to the thousands upon thousands of prayers family and friends had sent up to God as cancer ravaged his beloved’s body.

And then, just like that, he was gone, too. 

My friend and I stood in the kitchen where he had administered CPR to his dad, just hours before and we hugged, screamed and sobbed.  At 39 years-old we still felt like children, never ever having been in his parents’ house without them there.  

Shocked and numb, I drove away, contemplating the loss. 

Mr. White’s eulogy had been full of love and awe for his wife and the life they had shared. 

And I wondered, 

“What is a well-lived life?”  

Have I lived one? 

Am I living one?

In this distracted day-in-age, it feels all too easy to lose sight of the most important part of life:

Our connection to others. 

And if that is the meaning of life, 

Then I’ve lived it well.  

Let us all lie under the Christmas tree and watch the twinkling lights. 

The First Step

Have you ever had moments in your life when you feel like time stops?

It’s remarkable. 

It happened once when I was eleven.

And it happened again today when I read a line from an advice column:

“Children of alcoholics are often on high alert trying to anticipate other people’s feelings, so they can try to head off problems or incidents before they become overwhelming.”

The camera of my life came into focus. 

The dots connected. 

And for a moment, time stopped

As my mind rewinded

To the friendships I had ruined by suffocating them with my need to control

And the relationships I had endured because I expected no better.  

My desperate need for security. 

My present-day Type A personality. 

I am a child of an alcoholic. 

And it shows, still today. 

It’s not an excuse. 

But it does help to explain how I came to be. 

And for me, that’s the first step.

Time starts again.

New Leaf Parenting.

Every Day is a Fresh Start.

Original Article: https://www.pilotonline.com/advice/ct-aud-ask-amy-20221215-mgo2iskwwfehneze7tiqqapi6y-story.html

Life is Short

“Life is short.  Get a divorce.”

I audibly chuckled when I saw this highway billboard on the way home from South Carolina today.

I mean, if only it were so simple.

Things get tough?  Quit. 

Life is short, after all. 

As a child of divorce, I can honestly say that when my mom and step-dad “announced’ their separation, I was relieved. 

No more pretending.  No more arguing. 

Maybe they could be happy, after all?

I didn’t realize that it would lead to him deserting me forever.  

Or that I would find it impossible to spend another holiday with my step-siblings I had known since I was two.   

We were now split three ways.  Who could blame us?

Instead,  I take a hard look at my own marriage and give grace and ask for the same in return. 

We were madly in love. 

And then we had four children.

And that is really hard.  

But we are committed to remembering who we once were and who we are becoming. 

No need to pretend. 

No need to argue. 

We can be happy.

Things get tough.

Nothing is simple.

Life is short, after all. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Sisterhood

Let me tell you about this fragile relationship. 

It’s called Sisterhood. 

And in this house, it’s on Level 4. 

Competition.  Jealousy.  Friendship. Equality. 

The themes of this family.

When I say it’s all gravy one minute and WWIII the next, I mean it.  

That’s how fast things can change, in a house full of sisters. 

Tonight, a battle erupted over who gets to watch a show with mommy. 

Let’s be clear, people:  

I watch a total of 2- that is T-W-O- shows a week. 

They are Survivor and The Amazing Race. 

That is 100% completely it.  My total list. 

My husband sits down nightly and watches PTI on ESPN, a show about North Carolina fishing, Bob Ross painting, and bluegrass music without issue. 

As soon as I attempt to sit down, however, whether on the couch or toilet, I apparently have invited my audience to request things of me (I am, shockingly, sitting down, after all).  

So, I’ve given up!   I just don’t even bother trying to watch television because it’s too disappointing to try and claim that time. 

I’d rather hide in my bed and read or stay up way too late to write.  

Pre-children, I watched these two shows alone but since our second daughter, Harper,  has always been our night-owl, I started watching them with her a few years ago and, in addition to me reading Harry Potter aloud to her, it’s become “our thing”.  

It’s never really been an issue because my eldest, Aurora, has always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise child but she’s growing and changing into a tween and tonight, she wanted to stay and watch. 

Cue WWIII.  

Harper wanted Aurora to leave but Aurora, not causing an issue, had every right to be there. 

I found myself in the midst of a mommy battle and quickly realized, this was a turning point.  

I could defend Harper, my second daughter whom I’ve always protected- perpetually considering her feeling inferior to her big sister.  They are only twenty months apart and her big sister is an awesome human.  It’s tough shoes to fill! 

Or I could stand by my eldest, who can’t help that she came first or that I chose to have three more children.

Ultimately, I stood my ground and my husband backed me up.

I am a mother of FOUR.  Not one. 

My time is shared as equally as possible (not equal at the same time, equal over time!).

Harper’s argument was that Survivor was “our thing”. 

I explained that before her, it was “mine”.  

But I chose to share it with her. 

And now, I choose to share it with her sister, too.  

At one point, Aurora apologized (for even trying) and attempted to give up. 

No.

We do not apologize for existing.  

As the illegitimate child of a love affair, this hits particularly hard for me. 

We do not apologize for existing. 

She had every right to be there as her little sister, whose feelings have always been considered.

All’s well that ends well. 

And that’s how things wrapped up tonight. 

Harper was put in her place.  

Desperate as she is to claim her spot, she learned that she is part of a family and no more important than each piece of the puzzle. 

Aurora learned that I would defend her.  When she snuck a note under Harper’s door stating, ‘I’m sorry”, I returned it, explaining that:

We do not apologize for existing. 

I hugged Harper, as I tucked her in, and reminded her that she is loved. 

I hugged Aurora, as I tucked her in, and reminded her the same. 

It’s called Sisterhood. 

It’s a fragile relationship. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Shine

Recently, I was told that I am “overwhelming” and “exhausting”. 

And the thing is:  it’s not untrue. 

I am 100% both of those things. 

I live life fast and furiously, never wanting to miss a moment or waste a day- including days with zero plans because those often offer the best unplanned fun.  

And I document them!  

Boy, do I document them. 

Because I never want to forget.

But in my hard-life-living, I’ve also experienced personal casualties and wondered, 

“What’s wrong with me?” 

“Am I too much?”

“Am I not enough?”

The doubt creeps in and for a minute I think, “Yes, I should be smaller.”

Then, I remember a poem read to me by a speaker at a conference:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

I *remember* hearing this poem for the first time and the fire that it ignited in me. 

And as a mother of four daughters, 

I’ll be damned if anyone tries to put that out. 

Our girls will not accept mediocrity, if I have anything to do with it. 

They will strive for their best and nothing less.  

And you know why?

Because they are worth it!

Because we all are all worth it!

And because, as the poem says, we are all better when we let our light shine. 

Giving permission for others to shine, too.  

I considered shrinking 

And then I thought better of it.  

Instead, I shine. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Clear

I met him and it was clear, he wasn’t over somebody else. 

I handed him a Dr. Phil book and explained, if you want to be with me, then:

Read and do this. 

It took him a journal and a year, but damn if he didn’t do it.

Afterwards he looked at me and said, “I’ve learned more about myself while I’ve been with you than my entire life.”

Then, years later, I met the girl.

And I fell in love with her, too.

After all, we loved the same man. 

So, it makes sense. 

We started riding the Peloton together- two different states- texting every week to keep each other accountable.  

And in the midst, an unlikely friendship grew.  

Me and my husband’s ex-love.  

Riding, motivating each other to be our very best self.  

After all, we loved the same man.

So, it makes sense. 

I met her and it was clear. 

Jump In

“Why do you look so mad?  Come on, it’s a beautiful day.”  He said to me, fuming on the one beach towel I had thrown in at the last second.   

Ugh.  I hate it when he is right, which is so very often. 

I was mad because I was trying to be spontaneous with four young children. 

I was mad because for once, I was trying not to help get swimsuits on, pack snacks and lunches and apply sunscreen.

I was mad because it, of course, backfired. 

All four of my children were in the ocean, fully clothed. 

And now, my husband, too.  

Today was supposed to be about our kids accompanying me and my husband to ECSC- an annual surfing and volleyball competition in our hometown of Virginia Beach.  

This was our stomping ground- the way we first met- the way we spent our sun-filled days. 

We had a truck-full of bicycles.  

We brought water. 

But we were there to watch volleyball so we left the rest. 

And here they were. 

In the ocean. 

Laughing, begging me to join them. 

What is one to do?

There was no other reasonable answer other than to jump in. 

So, of course, I did. 

When in doubt, 

Jump in.  

Straight Up

It was our first meeting. 

And I told her, straight up: 

I won’t be able to tell you what I need. 

Instead, when I go into labor for the first time, and I’ve met you literally once, 

I  basically need you to read my mind and anticipate my needs. 

Welcome to the life of someone who has no gumption to ask for help. 

I didn’t say it in those words. 

I said it in apologetic, self-deprecating language.  

Like, I’m sorry I’m bothering you with paying to help me have a baby. 

I’m sorry I asked you to be my doula.  

I don’t know how to ask for or accept help. 

So, when I resorted to acupuncture to induce me, 10 days after her due date and a few days before they were going to induce me with pitocin, 

I apologized. 

My doula was a mother and it was a weekend, after all. 

She slept in a hospital room while Emmett and I labored all evening without the help I neglected to ask for. 

I had a perfectly, beautiful baby girl and I felt like a failure. 

Because I was too sorry to ask. 

And oh, was this not the theme of my life.

Too sorry. 

Too sorry to ask for help.

Too sorry for the imposition of my existence. 

Until I met others. 

And realized, I can’t change my past but I can forge our future. 

My daughters will be grounded and supported. 

They will not be afraid to ask for what they need. 

Instead, they will. 

Straight up.